World

Belarusian president frees all 6 political prisoners as he seeks better relations with West

FILE - In this Thursday, May 26, 2011 file photo, former opposition presidential candidate Nikolai Statkevich waves as he sits in a cage during a court session in Minsk, Belarus. The authoritarian president of Belarus on Saturday pardoned all six political prisoners in the former Soviet republic, including Statkevich, a former opposition presidential candidate. President Alexander Lukashenko's office said the president, "proceeding from the principle of humanism," decided Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015 to pardon and release Statkevich and five others who are considered to be political prisoners. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, file)

FILE - In this Thursday, May 26, 2011 file photo, former opposition presidential candidate Nikolai Statkevich waves as he sits in a cage during a court session in Minsk, Belarus. The authoritarian president of Belarus on Saturday pardoned all six political prisoners in the former Soviet republic, including Statkevich, a former opposition presidential candidate. President Alexander Lukashenko's office said the president, "proceeding from the principle of humanism," decided Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015 to pardon and release Statkevich and five others who are considered to be political prisoners. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, file)  (The Associated Press)

The authoritarian president of Belarus has pardoned all six political prisoners in the former Soviet republic, including a former opposition presidential candidate.

Freeing political prisoners was a condition set by the European Union and United States for improved relations with Belarus, which has been ruled by Alexander Lukashenko since 1994.

The EU and U.S. toughened sanctions on Belarus after the violent suppression of peaceful protests during the 2010 presidential election.

Nikolai Statkevich, a candidate in those elections, was later sentenced to six years in prison for what the court said was plotting riots.

Lukashenko's office said the president, "proceeding from the principle of humanism," decided Saturday to pardon and release Statkevich and the five others.

Belarus holds its next presidential election in October.